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Shehan Karunatilaka

Forfatter af The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

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Sri Lanka
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Colombo, Sri Lanka
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I must slightly caveat this 5* - if you're interested in cricket, the subcontinent (especially Sri Lanka) and have a tolerance for fictional unreliable memoirs, then you may love this book. If you are deficient in any of these criteria, this may not be the book for you.

However- for those still with me - I think this is a wonderful book. All about unfulfilled ambition, and legacy. And the beauty of sport. The beauty and the glory and the capriciousness and the tragedy - in short, the romance. All set against the backdrop of the history of Sri Lanka, with its civil war and corruption and bigotry, and punctuated by cricket matches. It is sad and sweet, and suffused with the wisdom and acceptance of old age (impressively, this despite being the first novel by Karunatilaka).

The book is named for the stock delivery bowled by an unorthodox left-arm spinner - the main delivery bowled by the main character. The plot follows a dissolute sports writer W.G. (Wije) Karunasena and cricket fan trying to find out what happened to Mathews, the greatest bowler Wije had ever seen.

Is Mathews fictional or real? It is difficult to know what's real and made up - certainly I recognised many of the cricketing stories. Having done a little bit of research I would say the vast majority is fiction, but Karunatilaka has done a great job of weaving the two together. This greatly enhances the "unreliable narrator" aspect of the book - if you don't know what bits have been borrowed from the real world, it's impossible to know which bits are supposed to be made-up in the suspended-disbelief fictional world.

In my googling, though, I found a couple of faked up websites about Pradeed Mathews - versions of cricinfo.com and crikipedia (with a strategic '1' in place of an 'i') - clearly created as supporting material for the book (one of these pages is featured in the book, but I only reached that after I found the page myself). So you have a fictional book that uses stories from the real world, with fictional bits leaking back out into the real world - it's kinda fascinating (and I'm certainly not saying it's unique, but it was very pleasing and effective to stumble across these fictional spillages).


Minor faults: it is somewhat romaticising of alcoholism (this is well reversed by the end, but may be jarring during the reading). And I found it a bit tricky to keep track of all the side characters. This is partly due to unfamiliar Sri Lankan names, but also because of the discursive nature of the narrative. I don't think these hamper the book particularly.
… (mere)
thisisstephenbetts | 7 andre anmeldelser | Nov 25, 2023 |
I didn't think this was a bad book, but I thought it had too much going on. It was simultaneously a look at the political situation in Sri Lanka during the Civil War, a look at what it means to be a gay man faced with homophobia, the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the interrelations between people, and the intersection of religion and what that could mean for us if there is an afterlife. It was a lot to digest, and I think the book tried to do too much to any of it well. It's a worthwhile read that left me wanting to do research into Sri Lankan history, but it could have been better.… (mere)
fuzzy_patters | 30 andre anmeldelser | Oct 10, 2023 |
WINNER of the 2022 Booker Prize !!!

“All stories are recycled and all stories are unfair. Many get luck, and many get misery. Many are born to homes with books, many grow up in the swamps of war. In the end, all becomes dust. All stories conclude with a fade to black.”

Set in 1990 Colombo, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka begins with our protagonist - professional war photographer, closeted gay and compulsive gambler- Malinda Albert Kabalana a.k.a. Maali Almeida, waking up, dazed and confused, initially assuming his condition to be the after effect of the “silly pills” his close friend Jaki shares with him. However, he soon realizes that he is now deceased (with no recollection of how he died) and is now in the afterlife - a crowded, chaotic place that he compares to a bureaucracy with its long queues and precise list of procedural formalities. He has “seven moons” (translates to seven nights), in the “In Between”, where he can roam free, recall his past life, complete the required formalities and proceed toward “The Light”.

Over the next seven moons, Maali desperately attempts to communicate with his friends, family or anyone who can hear him. He requires assistance to complete an unfinished task – among his earthly possessions is a box that contains photographs taken during his assignments- photographs of the death and devastation he has witnessed first-hand in 1980s Sri Lanka, victims including activists (who have been “disappeared”) journalists who are assumed missing and incriminating pictures of powerful people. In his own words,
” ‘These are not holiday snaps. These are photos that will bring down governments. Photos that could stop wars.’”

“Down There", his family and friends, frantically search for Maali, initially unaware that he has been killed. They approach the police who, among themselves, are initially confused about whether this disappearance warrants an investigation or a cover-up. Unbeknownst to them, many will try anything to get their hands on the photographs and Maali’s death is just a starting point for more chaos.

In the “In Between”, as Maali tries to figure out a way to get the photographs to the right people and piece together the events that led to his death, he meets an interesting mix of ghosts, ghouls, pretas and demons . He finds himself in a tug-of-war between the ghost of an academic murdered by Tamil extremists who guides Maali to complete all necessary formalities to proceed onwards and leave his past life behind and a slain member of the JVP (the communist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna),who has joined forces with a vengeful demon, and who wants him to join forces to exact revenge on those responsible for the death and devastation of many innocents victims and offers to help him find his killers. He meets others who have remained in the "In Between"- ghosts of victims of violence, others who have died by suicide as well as the ghost of a leopard. In his attempt to establish contact with the living, Maali also encounters "The Crow Man" - a holy man who serves as a medium between both worlds – catering to the needs of both, his help offered at a price.

“Evil is not what we should fear. Creatures with power acting in their own interest: that is what should make us shudder.”

“Down There” we get to meet people from Maali’s life – friends, secret lovers, family members, powerful men who have employed his services in the past, political leaders and their hired goons and those Maali met on assignments covering the some of the darkest episodes in 1980s Sri Lanka (the 1983 Tamil genocide among them).

Narrated in the second person, this heady cocktail of magical realism, historical fiction, political satire and dark humor takes us through one of the darkest chapters in Sri Lanka’s history. A cast of interesting characters – both living and the deceased (“ghost, ghoul, preta, devil, yaka, demon”), the dream-like quality of writing and the vivid descriptions of the political unrest, violence, and corruption in the civil war-torn country make for a compelling read. The narrative jumps back and forth between the present day in both the living world and the "In Between" with flashbacks from Maali's professional and personal lives filling us in on the events leading up to Maali's death.

“It is not Good vs Evil out here. It is varying degrees of bad, squabbling with conglomerates of the wicked.”

The author is bold and unflinching in his description of the different warring factions within the country -Tamil Tigers, LTTE, the JVP as well as the Sri Lankan government, military and the police. He also does not hesitate to turn a critical eye to the role played by foreign countries and international organizations who offered intervention and aid during those years. I can’t say that this is an easy read, but yes, the satirical approach and the sardonic humor keep it from becoming too overwhelming. The author also gives us a brief look into the history of the country - facts about the history of colonialism in Sri Lanka and the aftermath, the turbulent political landscape, the myths, religious beliefs and customs of the region and also references the Mahavamsa - the epic poem, written originally in Pali, that chronicles the ancient history and origin of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

“ ‘History is people with ships and weapons wiping out those who forgot to invent them. Every civilisation begins with a genocide. It is the rule of the universe. The immutable law of the jungle, even this one made of concrete. You can see it in the movement of the stars, and in the dance of every atom. The rich will enslave the penniless. The strong will crush the weak.’”

Although the narrative did seem to slow down in parts with some minor repetitiveness, overall "The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida" is an exceptionally well-written, immersive and powerful story, truly deserving of its place on the Booker Prize shortlist. This is my first time reading Shehan Karunatilaka and I look forward to reading more of his work.
… (mere)
srms.reads | 30 andre anmeldelser | Sep 4, 2023 |
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is nothing more than a pretentious deluge of mental diarrhea.
shokei | 30 andre anmeldelser | Jul 30, 2023 |



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